Fernando Alonso pushed for an extended 2018 car test programme ahead of his Formula 1 return and has also asked Renault to work on New Year’s Day to maximise preparation for 2022.
Alonso will end a two-season spell out of F1 when he makes his comeback in 2021, having signed a two-year deal to rejoin Renault for a third time.
The double world champion drove Renault’s 2020 car on a filming day at Barcelona but was limited to 100km of running on Pirelli demonstration tyres because of F1’s strict rules around testing with current cars.
However, he followed that up with a two-day test in Renault’s 2018 car in Bahrain and the team has planned an extra two-day test in the RS18 in Abu Dhabi.
Renault’s primary use for testing with its older car is to give its Academy drivers F1 testing mileage although it did roll out the R.S.18 earlier this year to refresh race drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon ahead of the season opener, following the lengthy hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Academy drivers Guanyu Zhou, Christian Lundgaard and Oscar Piastri were scheduled to drive in Bahrain and Renault added extra days for Alonso because he has pushed for as much track time as possible.
“He wants more days in the car to get used to the team, to get used to the systems, the procedures, to fine-tune his seating position, the steering wheel, everything,” said Renault’s executive director Marcin Budkowski.
“But he also hasn’t driven the car for two years and they are bloody fast cars and he needs to get back in shape, get back in the rhythm.
“So he’s taking any opportunity he can to drive.”
F1’s 2021 pre-season will be limited to just three days, giving Alonso precious little time to get up to speed with its new car before his race return.
Prior to his Renault testing exploits his only F1 experience since his final race in Abu Dhabi, in 2018, was a McLaren testing appearance early in 2019.
When asked by The Race what Alonso could learn driving the 2018 car, Budkowski said Alonso was seeking to fast-track smaller areas of acclimatisation and refinements to maximise the time available to him in pre-season next year.
“It’s an opportunity to work with him on things like the steering wheel, his favourite button position, how he wants to be able to activate all the different systems in a car, and practice our procedures,” said Budkowski.
“It seems simple. But the more we practice these things, the less we have to do during winter testing.
“We only have three days of running for two drivers in winter testing next year. So we are practising FIA procedures, all the various things that he will need to have under his belt that might be different from what he experienced before. And also getting accustomed to the team.
“The car is different. It’s our 2018 car. We’ve improved quite a lot since 2018 with the car. The ‘20 car is a better car. But at the end of the day, getting used to a Renault car even if it’s a two-year-old car is beneficial.”
In addition to striving for such marginal gains already, Alonso has impressed Renault with his attitude away from the track.
He visited the team’s base at Enstone and engine facility at Viry earlier this year, where Budkowski said his commitment to executing his comeback as well as possible was evident
“In terms of his enthusiasm and his determination he’s been at the factory and to do some seat fits,” said Budkowski.
“And there was an opportunity to take him around the factory and to show him everything has changed since he was there a number of years ago and a lot has changed since then.
“His motivation is incredible. He’s really asking everybody, pushing, and you spend a few minutes with him and straightaway you’re motivated.
“So, it’s great for the staff to be exposed to someone like this who is a great champion, but also is so motivated for next year and the next year to come.”
Budkowski said that Alonso’s “determination and curiosity” were the most striking elements of his personality that had come across so far.
Alonso has previously stressed to Renault how seriously it needs to take its preparation for new technical rules in 2022, which he is targeting as the more relevant season of his comeback.
“He’s asking about anything,” said Budkowski.
“We’re in the wind tunnel, and he said, ‘So you can’t run the 22 car at the moment?’ and we said we can’t do it because of the regulations.
“’So, when can you start developing?’ We said the first of January.
“’OK’, are you running on the first of January? We said well normally we don’t, but this year we might.
“And he said, ‘Okay, we have to run the first of January, I will come here, I can help you on the first of January’.
“This is the level of motivation of Fernando at the moment.”